Undermining religious tradition: a time-honoured religious tradition

Religious tradition has been being ‘undermined’ in Britain since recorded history began—most of the time by people of a distinctly religious persuasion.

Hardly a silly season seems to go by without someone—they’re usually from the Church of England—moaning about how those intolerant secularists seem hell-bent on undermining time-honoured British religious tradition. By which, they usually mean time-honoured English religious tradition.

The latest manufactured moral outrage came courtesy of the Archbishop of York, whose bandwagon was soon jumped on by none other than the Prime Minister. The cause of their holy indignation? Cadbury and the National Trust have had the temerity to advertise Egg Hunts, rather than Easter Egg Hunts. Well, there go hundreds of years of Christian-appropriated pagan religious tradition down the plughole!

Playing the ‘tradition’ card smacks of desperation. The circular argument is that we should carry on doing things the way we’ve always done them because we’ve always done things that way. It’s hardly the most compelling of arguments. Imagine if the Druids had used it when the Romans arrived: “We should carry on daubing ourselves in woad, worshipping trees, and sacrificing the odd virgin because we’ve always daubed ourselves in woad, worshipped trees, and sacrificed the odd virgin.” Or if the Romans had used it when Christianity arrived: “I don’t like the sound of this new-fangled ‘Jehovah’; Jupiter has far more charisma.” Or if the Anglo-Saxons had used it when the first Roman and Celtic Christian missionaries landed: “You can’t get rid of Tiw, Woden, Thunor and Frigg—over half the bloody week’s named after them!”

The fact is, religious tradition has been being ‘undermined’ in Britain since recorded history began—most of the time by people of a distinctly religious persuasion. Indeed, you could argue that undermining time-honoured British religious tradition is something of a time-honoured British religious tradition. In general (albeit in somewhat biased hindsight), it has usually been seen as a good thing.

If we had never undermined time-honoured British religious tradition, this island would presumably still be pagan, or worshipping at the cult of the Roman emperor, or Catholic (the same thing, in some people’s eyes). If time-honoured British religious tradition had prevailed, there would be no Church of England, no Methodists, no Quakers, no British Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus, no re-imagined Druids, and no self-styled Wiccans. If we had stuck with time-honoured British religious tradition, sermons would still be in Latin, we would all be heading off on crusades, and kids would be getting married at 14.

We cringe in hindsight—or, at least, I hope we all do—at many of the religious rules, ideas and practices which were once seen as sacrosanct, but are now seen as abominations. We live in a modern world: of course we don’t want to go back to witch-burnings, the ‘evil-spirit’ theory of disease, and the Genesis account of creation. I appreciate I’m setting up a staw-man here: to most modern British religious adherents, the very suggestion is ridiculous. Yet such nonsense was once part of our proud, time-honoured religious tradition.

As you will probably have gathered, I’m not a religious person. But I have some well-meant advice for those of you who are, and who like to play the ‘tradition’ card. It’s time to move on. Stop blaming the secularists; you are your own faith’s worst enemy. Every time you play the tradition card, your religion becomes less and less relevant. Female bishops, gay marriages, practising gay priests, Easter-free Easter eggs: get over them—it’s the 21st Century! In a couple of years, everyone will wonder what the hell all the fuss was about. Most of us already do.

And as for all you more modern, forward-thinking, right-on, non-traditionalist people of a religious persuasion, if you think your faith should still be officially defended by the monarch, that it should still receive preferential treatment from the state, and that kids should still be indoctrinated in it at school rather than in a place of worship, you are also part of the problem. Shouldn’t your religion be strong enough to stand on its own two feet, without fear or favouritism?

Or don’t you think it is?

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.


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